Researchers at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine have mapped the entire genetic makeup of 50 felines and are using the data to identify the source of illnesses that cause blindness and death in cats.
The research, named the 99 Lives Cat Genome Sequencing Initiative, was started by Leslie Lyons, the school’s Gilbreath-McLorn endowed professor of comparative medicine. In a prepared statement, Lyons said the results could lead to better treatments and breeding strategies for both exotic, endangered cats and more mundane varieties of house cats.
“Genetics of the patient is a critical aspect of an individual’s health care for some diseases,” Lyons said. “Continued collaboration with geneticists and veterinarians could lead to the rapid discovery of undiagnosed genetic conditions in cats. The goal of genetic testing is to identify disease early, so that effective and proactive treatment can be administered to patients.”
The project’s ultimate aim is to sequence the entire genome of 99 cats. Getting halfway there has already given the Missouri research team insights into genetic mutations that lead to serious health conditions.
One study found a genetic mutation responsible for progressive retinal atrophy, which causes blindness in the endangered African black-footed cat. A second study identified a mutation that causes Niemann-Pick type C1, a fatal cellular disorder, in a 36-week-old silver tabby kitten that was referred to the MU Veterinary Health Center.
According to the university, veterinarians will use the research to diagnose other cats with Niemann-Pick disorder and get them quicker treatment, and zookeepers will use the research to refine their species survival plans for the African black-footed cat.